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'Elephant in the room' at City Council over zoo

November 19, 2008 |  6:49 pm

Elephant_2 The Los Angeles Zoo’s controversial elephant exhibit was hardly the "elephant in the room" Wednesday at an L.A. City Council meeting.

Far from unspoken, it was the only issue in Council Chambers for four and a half hours before a packed house that cheered and groaned as wildlife experts, animal welfare activists, impassioned schoolteachers, zoo lovers, a former game show host-cum-animal cause philanthropist (Bob Barker) and council members themselves weighed in on the future of elephants in the city.

Even some council members expressed surprise that they spent half a day debating two motions from Councilman Tony Cardenas: One would halt construction on the zoo’s $42 million "Pachyderm Forest" habitat; the other would create an elephant sanctuary -- a preserve, possibly 50 to 100 acres -- somewhere in the L.A. basin.

They did not reach a decision. In the end, the council decided to postpone any vote, agreeing to refer the issue of shutting down the exhibit to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee for some financial study first.

"I hope we spend four hours on the homeless, gridlock and other issues that affect our city,"said Councilman Bill Rosendahl. But council members sparred as passionately over the issues as the zoo supporters and the opposing animal welfare advocates have been doing for years as the fate of the proposed exhibit has been called into question several times over the past few years.

This is, in fact, the second time that the City Council has voted on whether to allow construction to continue. Two years ago, they approved it.

"I’ve been to South Africa," said Councilman Dennis Zine, noting that he had seen elephants in their natural habitat. "It’s a huge, huge animal. It doesn’t belong in an enclosure. . . . I voted no originally. I’m still going to vote no."

--Carla Hall

Photo: LAT